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Mod. 12 - Self Portrait

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Ben, The Brown Spotted Banana

I've chosen a brown spotted banana as my self-portrait for a number of reasons. I was inspired to think about brown spotted bananas recently after my partner revealed that he, like most people I've encountered, will not touch a banana that has started to brown. Perhaps inspired by a combination of our assignments including Sitting With A Broken Place and Probing our MOC after our session on Innovating Emergent Futures, I tried to imagine myself as a banana starting to brown.

Drawing from our assignment on new leadership paradigms, I started with the question "How did we get here?" Like bananas, people have a smooth exterior layer of skin for protection that can be damaged and, over time, begin to impact the interior. Bananas contain vital nutrients such as potassium, which helps protect our bodies from developing hypertension, vitamin B-6, which is an important mood enhancer, phytonutrients which help prevent cancer, and a strong source of fiber which is important for digestion. So why are people so turned off from this important and delicious food as soon as it begins to brown?

The most common answer is texture. Many people with aversions to certain foods state "texture issues" as the reason. Common examples include mushrooms, oysters, artichokes and fruits like bananas and pears beginning to brown. But unlike mushrooms and oysters which people write off regardless of freshness, most people are fine with bananas that are ripe. The element of a brown banana to which most people are averse is often described as a "mushy" quality that makes it unfit for consumption. Am I suggesting that I come across as a mushy banana and that's why most people are averse to me? Not at all.

What I see in a brown spotted banana is the same quality that I've identified in a unicorn. A difference among the herd that causes it to be othered, leading to isolation, loneliness and rejection from the herd. Whereas the unicorn's unique nature is shrouded in beauty and magic, the brown spotted banana doesn't have the luxury of mythological qualities to protect itself. Neither is the brown spotted banana valued for its rarity. Its appearance is actually commonplace among the bunch and is removed almost immediately because its blemish will make the rest of the bananas in the bunch appear undesirable by association.

Growing up as a closeted gay kid in a big homeschooled, fundamentalist Christian family with strong Armenian and Jewish cultural ties, I often felt like I was the brown spotted banana whose blemish was making the rest of my family appear undesirable. I would often be rejected or made fun of for being different, but I knew in my core that just because I was different, it didn't mean I wasn't valuable. As an adult I've seen how that experience helped shape my personal and professional value to never write anyone or anything off because of its perceived value and to always do my best defend those who are. But going against the grain is never easy and I have had to learn ways to challenge the status quo that acknowledges its value but also subtly pushes it forward.

I gained a very valuable tool for how to accomplish that goal from Daniel Kramer, an American director of dance, opera, and theatre who briefly served as the Artistic Director of the English National Opera. I was fortunate to hear him speak during a panel session at an opera conference discussing the myriad challenges of presenting Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly in today's social and political landscape. He said "Whenever I am in a situation where I have to push an actor or singer to engage in a role I always ask them to go deeper. To ask themselves 'What else is there? What else can we bring out from this character that might be different or new and will add dimension to the work?' I've always found something new that hadn't been considered before. Whether it's a psychological motivation or the impact of the environment on the character in that moment of the story, there is always something new to find, we just have to be willing to dig deeper."

I've brought this idea of "digging deeper" into my work during brainstorming sessions and planning meetings where I find myself asking questions such as "Have we considered everything?" or "What might we be missing or need to give greater attention?" My motivation to ask these questions is the result of several experiences in which projects I was involved that had areas that were not accounted for and ultimately had negative repercussions. I've learned that asking these questions has helped my teammates to think differently plays a significant role in minimizing potential risks that may not have otherwise been addressed by accounting for as many possibilities as possible.

Frasca and Kerr's concept of probing from Innovating Emergent Futures aligns closely with the idea of "digging deeper" as a key to driving innovation forward. My personal journey of probing and digging deeper wasn't motivated by a desire to innovate in business or leadership per se, but to survive in a world where my identity goes against the status quo. Queer people have been innovating ways of survival for thousands of years as society sought to create new ways to erase them. In the same way, a brown spotted banana can be easily disregarded or erased because its blemish makes it appear less valuable. Ironically, as a banana becomes over-ripe, it actually tastes sweeter. It is only because bakers took the time to consider if an over-ripe banana could still be used that they discovered the increased sweetness which inspired them to experiment and create banana bread, among other delicious treats. Taking time to consider the value of a brown-spotted banana led to innovation. By considering that which goes against the status quo, we dig deeper and open ourselves up to new possibilities and potential for innovation, which we will need a lot of in order to survive.

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